Estelle: Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

Raw Blue by Kirsty EagarRaw Blue by Kirsty Eagar
Publication Date: June 29, 2009
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Pages: 264
Audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: Australia, surfing, “gap year”, secrets
Format read: Paperback sent to me in a book exchange with the lovely Mandee from Vegan YA Nerds!

Summary: Carla leaves university to work nights at a restaurant so she can surf every day. She’s kind of a loner, but really precise in the kitchen, and doesn’t always answer her phone when her mom calls. Only the waves can help her forget what happened to her a few years ago… until she can’t forget anymore.

A few confessions:

  • I’ve had this book on my bookshelf since February.
  • In high school, I watched Blue Crush so many times… I know exactly when each song begins.
  • I also desperately wanted to be Kate Bosworth: her hair, her body, waking up to run on the beach. Let’s just ignore the bitchy sister she had for a second.
  • I once had a boyfriend that laughed his ass off when he saw that I had Blue Crush in my movie collection. Needless to say, that didn’t last long.

Now that you know all of that classified information, I can say this: Raw Blue is a treasure and why why why has it not been published in the United States yet?

Here’s the thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that Aussie writers consistantly take big emotions, big issues, small details, and every day laughs and expertly bend and twist all of it into their books into consistantly organic (there’s my word) and subtly powerful books.

In Raw Blue, Carla definitely has demons and runs like hell away from them. But Eagar gives us this panoramic view of Carla’s life without making her secrets/reasons for living the centerpiece for everything. I love this character’s connection to the ocean and the terminology and the knowledge of surfing is so impressive…if it was summer and I had a board, I probably could have joined right in. And the supporting characters that keep popping in and out — Danny, who sees people as colors; Hannah, the salsa, man loving neighbor; Ryan, the careful yet diligent surfer — bring such moments of humor and freshness into the prose. I desperately wanted Carla to open herself up to one of these people.

For a story with so many layers, Eagar manages to investigate each of them void of any high level drama. The title says it all: it is completely raw. It is completely real. We feel Carla’s distrust of people, her need to keep order in that restaurant, the sliver of hope when she reaches out to others, and how images of her past manage to repeat themselves at the worst times. She’s flawed and as readers, we have to watch her go for something and pick herself back up … time and time again. (And this doesn’t just pertain to surfing.)

If you can get your hands on a copy of Raw Blue, do it. For the love of literature and all that is wonderful about words. It’s a well-crafted novel that touches upon all the lightest and darkest moments one can experience, and by far, one of the best examples of just how much potential exists in the young adult genre.

One final note… starting a book that has received rave reviews from all around can be really intimidating. Your expectations might be too high, and you could be disappointed. I’m really glad that I waited to read Raw Blue. It’s not really the kind of book you try to gobble up in one seating; it’s more of a slow and steady companion. One that made me realize, while few, just what other titles from this year have satisfied my need for unfiltered, unfluffy bits of life that truthfully showcase the ups and the downs. And I feel mega lucky.

own it now -- highest ranking from Rather Be Reading Blog

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Estelle: The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
Publication Date: December 29, 2009
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 290
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Breakups, girlfriends, Beatles, cheating
Format read: Borrowed from the library.

Summary: When Penny Lane is betrayed and disappointed by the only guy who has had her heart, she decides to take a stand against all of this bad treatment and start The Lonely Hearts Club (based on the song by the Beatles) and stop dating until high school is over. When the club starts to accrue members and its only set of rules, the whole idea becomes something Penny could have never imagined. But soon she starts to wonder how realistic her “non-dating” rule is when someone catches her eye. Maybe not every guy is as bad as she thought…

For any girl who has been forced to reevaluate her feelings for a guy based on their nonsensical and asshole-ish behavior, this is the book for you. (Hello every girl in the world.) After Penny makes a horrifying discovery about her childhood love, she decides not to sit around and wallow but to do something about it and forms The Lonely Hearts Club. (She and her family are HUGE Beatles fans.) She vows to remain single for the rest of high school and focus on herself, and after a bit of time she is no longer a club of one.

I instantly clicked with Penny Lane. I’m actually not sure if I’ve connected with a character quite so quickly but I easily related to her being head over heels for a guy she’s known since she was young, a guy that has caused her to fantasize so much about their happily ever after that no one seems to come close. I was also disappointed by that same guy. Not in the way Penny was but it hurt like hell. (And continued to for a long time after.) I loved her go-get-em spirit and the way she took a bad situation and turned it into something bigger. In fact, there were many moments in this book where I wished I had started the same kind of group.

I was also reminded of Kody Keplinger’s book, Shut Out. Girls forming unexpected friendships when they band together for the same cause. But Eulberg took the club and the characters to new heights. They were dimensional, so far from cliche and their mission felt relatable. I could SEE girls in my high school (unlike in Shut Out) concocting this crazy plan. And it was crazy. It’s apparent once the rules are set in stone and their group gains notoriety that something’s going to blow up and go wrong. But that was a lesson these girls needed to learn for themselves. They were hurt and created something with zero flexibility to stop that hurt from happening again. They needed to get to the point where they were ready and willing to take a chance in a new relationship.

Because *newsflash* despite the duds, there were nice guys out there.

Penny is enthusiastic, strong, and brave, and I think she discovered a lot about herself once she establishes TLHC. She is able to reconnect with her ex-best friend, who had become one of those girls we hate — so into her boyfriend she loses her identity and drops her old friends. I say BRAVO to Eulberg for including this character. Because this trap that Diane fell into is JUST SO COMMON (hey, I did it too) so I’m happy to see awareness brought to this kind of issue. Diane actually turned into one of my favorite characters. While it’s important to understand a main character, I love with an author takes the time to create supporting characters who are able to leave an important impact on the reader as well. Eulberg did this many times over.

There were also a multitude of great guy characters in this book (the villainous and the good). Undoubtedly, Ryan, the ex-boyfriend of Diane and one of Penny’s good friends, is swoon worthy and epic amongst potential love interests. I don’t want to give too much away but I loved how Eulberg was able to introduce Ryan and each time it felt like a bread crumb leading to a more significant occasion.

I could probably gush about this book forever. I thought it was a true depiction of high school with characters who were so like the ones I spent my school years with. In fact, I had a huge yearning to go back to those days of planning and getting ready for dances with my girlfriends. Those were just the best times and I think The Lonely Hearts Club captured what is so important and amazing about the friendships of women. They require forgiveness, flexibility, understanding, and most of all, support.

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Estelle: How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Pages: 288 pages
Published: October 1, 2009
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover borrowed from the library
How I heard about it: Over at Anna Reads.

Summary: Thanks to her dad’s new job, Beatrice is forced to start her senior year at a new school and her mom is just plain miserable. On her first day of school, Beatrice begins a tumultuous friendship with Jonah, a loner with the nickname Ghost Boy. Even as they get to know each other and they scheme to track down his brother (who he once believed to be dead), Jonah has a tendency to detach. And that is something Bea just doesn’t understand. Perhaps she’s not as unfeeling as her mom thinks she is…

I know you aren’t supposed to choose a book by its cover but How to Say Goodbye in Robot is probably the best-looking book I’ve picked up all year. Brilliant hot pink pages pinpoint each month that goes by during Beatrice’s senior year at a new high school. At this point, Beatrice is used to moving around a lot as her dad finds better and better teaching positions at colleges but her mom comes off a little bi-polar and obsessed with chickens. This is where the title comes in — Beatrice’s mom calls her a robot when she fails to feel anything for a dead gerbil. She starts to question whether her mom is right — is she detached from her emotions?

At school, Beatrice strikes up an unlikely friendship with Jonah, dubbed as Ghost Boy by the rest of his graduating class. While this move is not the best for her social standing at school, Bea and Jonah begin to depend on each other. They also listen to a late-night radio show filled with some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever come across. In no way is this your typical high school YA and I think that’s why I loved it so much. Instead of being obsessed with clothes, the popular crowd, or falling for each other, both of these characters are struggling with real problems and seeking solace in each other. Kind of. Jonah likes to push Bea away, and she has trouble dealing with that. He gets jealous when she goes on dates, ignores her for a long periods of time, and then jumps back into her life.

It’s not healthy. Not even close. But I could relate to the hope that Bea clinged to. That Jonah would realize how much he needed her, how much their friendship meant in the grand scheme of things… this novel is very well-written. From start to finish, it’s better than a lot of the adult fiction I’ve been reading. (Although, unfortunately, this seems like a growing trend.) The tone is melancholy yet down-to-earth. I felt Jonah and Bea were some of the more relatable YA characters I’ve come across, at least when it came to my own middle school and high school experiences.

I can’t sit here and psych all of you up for a happy ending. The way things went down may have been the best thing for both characters but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.

By the way, any book that opens with Truman Capote quote — it’s got the goods.

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Estelle: Lock and Key By Sarah Dessen

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
Released: May 14, 2009
Pages: 432
Target Audience: Young Adult
Why I picked it up: Trying to read a bunch of Dessen.
Format: Hardcover borrowed from the library.
Summary: At a young age, Ruby is forced to take charge of her life due to her M.I.A. and irresponsible mother. When her mom disappears and the landlords find out, Ruby begrudgingly reunites with her sister, whom she hasn’t seen in many years.

This was the second Sarah Dessen book I’ve read (the first being Keeping the Moon, which I absolutely loved). For a long time, Ruby thought she was fooling the world into thinking her life was just fine. Somehow ignoring the fact that electricity wasn’t working and water wasn’t running. The reality: her mom has split, she can’t keep up with the bills, and pretty suddenly she finds herself living with her sister and husband in a huge house and unlimited amounts of money. The girls have not seen each other since Cora left for college. Now she is a successful lawyer married to Jamie, a guy she met in college who also has a prosperous career.

It’s heartbreaking because when the sisters were younger Cora took the brunt of her mother’s behavior to protect Ruby and somewhere along the way they lost that. Their sibling dynamics, in addition to Ruby’s “friendship” with the boy-next-door, Nate (who has problems of his own), really force Ruby to examine her past and figure out how to stumble forward.

What made this book so addicting for me was the gradual change in all of the characters and the realization that the word “family” means many things to different people. Sometimes that is a lot to deal with, especially for Ruby and Cora, who grew up with a mother who was destructive in a number of ways.

Dessen does a great job of making these characters and their feelings tangible and by the final chapters, I couldn’t stop picking up the book during my work day. I was satisfied that she left readers with realistic conclusions and most of all, hope.

BOOK REPORT: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Hi! Welcome to our shiny, new blog: Rather Be Reading. We’re so excited to be coming to you live after a month of preparation, and a few months of brainstorming!

Before we get into our individual book reviews, we wanted to launch with our first BOOK REPORT, a feature that will be recurring every month. Basically we read the same book, chat about it and post it here. Because we are sort of experimenting with this format and double-reviewing a book, this is subject to change. But for today, with minor spoilers, we discuss:

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ocklerjoint book review of twenty boy summer by sarah ockler, discussion of twenty boy summer book, young adult books dealing with death
Release Date: June 1, 2009
Pages: 290
Target Audience: YA
Format: Library book for Magan; Estelle owns a hard copy.

How Estelle found out about it: Found it by chance on the YA table at Barnes & Noble.
How Magan found out about it: Browsing for more books by Sarah Ockler; I’d already read Fixing Delilah and wanted more!

Summary: Anna has been best friends with siblings Frankie and Matt forever. She’s also been in love with Matt for as long as she can remember. On her fifteenth birthday, it seems like her dreams are coming true — Matt kisses her and she discovers he likes her too. Before they can tell Frankie about their “whatever-it-is”, Matt dies in a car accident. A year later, Frankie and her family, along with Anna, are still reeling from this loss and Anna still hasn’t divulged her secret to Frankie. On a trip to California, Frankie decides the two girls will meet 20 guys and that Anna should lose her virginity. But Anna still cannot forget Matt…

Magan: Let’s go!  I’m just opening my notes.  My first thoughts were that Anna was so hung up on Matt that it made me really connect with him.  I liked his character and I really felt sad that he died, leaving no chance for there to be a future between the two of them.
Estelle: Me too. It was sort of like an ache that didn’t leave me throughout the whole book.
Magan: Yes!
Estelle: I was really upset we didn’t get to see more of their stolen moments, but happy when they were sort of woven throughout the book. It also really brought me back to my first relationship, too.
Magan: Yes! Stolen moments – when she wrote her first letter to Matt, I had tears streaming down my face… and when she met other boys, I felt so disappointed. I think I compared all of them to Matt and never really connected with Sam as much.
Estelle: With Sam, I liked him immediately but still felt sad that she would never get to talk to or spend more time with Matt again. I felt proud of her for taking the plunge with a new guy and not buying into Frankie’s mission too much.
Magan: Yeah, and repeatedly throughout my notes, I kept writing “Just tell Frankie! Just tell her about Matt!”  I wanted Frankie to understand why she wasn’t jumping into all those relationships.
Estelle: Frankie wouldn’t have wanted to understand anyway.  The family dynamic post-death was very terrifying to me. Anna was totally the anchor for everyone.
Magan: Oh, yeah.  My heart felt so heavy for Anna. The way she kept saying, “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”  That was hard.  She was so not fine.
Estelle: I agree. I think Anna’s character was so well-developed and even though she was the most rational, the way she dealt with death was avoidance and sort of burying it.
Magan: …but at the same time, she wasn’t really moving forward.  Granted, I didn’t want her to have moved on beyond Matt, but I felt like she was stuck.
Estelle: She was. I think about her age though. She was young when that happened.  Maybe an older person would have moved on more swiftly; her head would have been in a different place. Like if she was distracted by college or something.
Magan: I think that’s why Frankie’’s challenge bothered me the most.  They were so young, Frankie was dealing with something tragic irrationally, and all she cared about was Anna losing her virginity.  It made me hate Frankie’s character. I knew I was supposed to laugh at all of the words she mixed up, but I really, really disliked her character.
Estelle: I thought Frankie had a learning disability.  Honestly.  The effects of a traumatic event occurring in her life. I didn’t get it really.  I thought we were going to find out just how messed up she was especially because they kept pointing out how she was failing all the school stuff. But it ended up being nothing.
Magan: Right, but in actuality she just LIED about everything.
Estelle: Maybe it would have worked better if we got another moment between Anna and Frankie before the accident. We only got Anna and Matt.
Magan: I agree. I wish we had seen more of Anna and Frankie pre-accident.  We didn’t really see as much of how Frankie had changed. We were told, but I didn’t feel it was convincing.  I just thought Frankie was an airhead.
Estelle: She wasn’t a character I was that invested in. I was just waiting for her to quit playing her game.
Magan: Not at all. In fact, Anna and Matt were the only two I cared about.
Estelle: I wondered when the breaking point was going to be.
Magan: Me too.
Estelle: You know what bugged me?
Magan: What?
Estelle: They never went full circle with the mom/aunt conversation [As in Frankie & Matt’s mom].
Magan: EXACTLY!
Estelle: I was hoping Anna would have a chance to talk to Jayne again or even resolve it later, but nothing comes out of it.  It just sort of hangs there.
Magan: I typed at the end of my notes that I wished they’d talked again. I wrote, “Part of me feels like she needs motherly love and for someone to tell about she and Matt’s relationship.”  Anna told Sam, but like that conversation would have really went down like that.  I don’t think so.  Anna: “Oh, hey Sam. I’m dealing with some really heavy stuff. I lied about Frankie not having a sibling. She had a brother. I kind of dated him and then he died, but Frankie just found out. And she’s mad at me now.” Sam: “Oh, that sucks. Must have been hard. Who cares that you lied? Let me comfort you.”  Yeah right!
Estelle: He [Sam] really didn’t bother me.
Magan: No, but I didn’t care about him at all.  I didn’t like him. I didn’t see the appeal.  I wanted to. I wanted Anna to meet the best boy and for me to love him. But, I didn’t.
Estelle: She couldn’t meet the best boy though.  She was leaving.
Magan: Yeah, the best boy died.
Estelle: Ha! You can’t make it seem like she would never meet another boy again.
Magan: Oh, I know.  And I know that I would’ve been ticked if there had been a perfectly happy ending with butterflies and rainbows and promises to stay together.  So during the huge climax where Frankie finally finds out – who were you rooting for – Anna or Frankie?
Estelle: Umm, definitely Anna.
Magan: Yeah, me too.  I wanted to punch Frankie so hard.
Estelle: The journal thing was heartbreaking. I would have gone nuts.
Magan: Oh gosh.  I would have, too. I would have tried to save that thing.  I probably would have pushed Frankie in the ocean.  I just couldn’t help but dislike Frankie even more after that. All I could think about was how bratty and immature she was.

Estelle: They were just a bunch of extremes of how they dealt with Matt’s death, I guess.   I think Anna was a loyal friend even if she couldn’t tell Frankie about Matt. She stuck with her even if she was a totally different person.
Magan: I loved that. I have a really hard time with change, so I hope that I could respond in the same way if something in my life happened like this. With a huge life altering change – to be so loyal.
Estelle: Especially when that person you are loyal to is 1) acting like a nut 2) was the sibling of the dead boy you loved. Tough stuff.
Magan: Yeah.  I kind of wish that the whole journal thing hadn’t been dealt with the way it had. I wish maybe Anna had given Frankie the diary to say, “This is what I’ve been going through. This is what happened and I want you to know.”  Especially since Frankie was being so selfish. Maybe Anna had been able to draw some attention to her pain for once.
Estelle: I think they needed a drama.  What else would have been the climax?
Magan: Frankie would have still blown up, but maybe the diary wouldn’t have been tossed into the abyss of the ocean. Ha!
Estelle: I still think they needed something big like maybe the parent’s found out they had been sneaking out and there’s a big shakeup.
Magan: Oh, yeah. I didn’t like that they got away with that stuff.
Estelle: They may not have gotten away with it. I still feel like my mom [sorry Mom!] knew all the times i snuck out even if i thought I was being crafty.  So it’s Sarah [Oakler]’s debut novel, would you consider reading more of her writing?
Magan:  Hmm. I think I would. I do hope that more of the characters would be fully developed in her future novels. I loved Anna so much and just wanted that from all the characters.  What about you?
Estelle: I think I definitely would. Her style… with the italics … and the shifts in time totally reminds me of something I would like to write or have experimented with in the past.
Magan: *laughs*  Yeah, good call. Any final thoughts on the book?  What would you rate this one?  I’d say it’s a 3 for me. I’m glad I read it, but I won’t re-read it.
Estelle: I would probably say 3 also. I think it would be a book I would take with me on vacation and read again. It felt like a Baby-Sitter’s Club book to me sometimes too, specifically any time the gang traveled to Sea City. Either way, I’m a sucker for a beach/summer vacation setting.
Magan: I am, too.  I guess I’d just pick something a little less heavy for a beach read.
Estelle: I still thought it was light even if it was heavy, if that makes sense.
Magan: *laughs*  Yes, it does.
Estelle: I liked all the associations with the sea glass too. I liked that she got to hear a final moment about Matt from Frankie and get the necklace.
Magan: Ah.  That was a nice wrap-up.  Have you read Moonglass by Jessi Kirby?
Estelle: No!  I’m looking it up now!
Magan:  You should read Moonglass if you liked this book.  A beach setting. A cute love story. A bit of family drama.  Oh, and sea glass references.
Estelle: Perfect! Added to the list!
Thank you all for joining in on our first BOOK REPORT chat. We hope you’ll think about adding Twenty Boy Summer to your must-read list!